Hands painted to look like a globe

Can advertising change the world?

So far this year, Audi and Nike stepped into the sociopolitical fray with campaigns focused on equality. Both have received cheers and jeers for their efforts, but as an American watching many of our democratic ideals be flushed down the toilet recently, I say this sort of aspirational advertising is a good start.

Audi’s “Daughter” – an aspirational message of gender equality

On February 1, Audi released “Daughter,” a 60-second spot focused on gender equality.

The narration is excellent and made more thought-provoking by the fact that we’re watching a young girl competing, having fun with boys. “What should I tell my daughter?…Do I tell her that despite her education, her drive, her skills, her intelligence, she will automatically be valued less than every man she ever meets?”

Great question. Impactful message.

I’m sure Audi thought they were in the clear, after signing the White House’s equal pay pledge and promising to review its own pay policies back in December. But audiences immediately jumped on Audi for being hypocritical, with females making up only 14.8 percent of the group’s entire staff, a mere 8.9 percent of Audi management being women, and no women on its board of directors.

Should they have released the ad? I say yes. It gives them something to live up to under the public eye. If Audi was already the model corporation in terms of gender equality, they would have used adult women in a different kind of ad rather than focusing on the dreams of a father for his daughter. Right?

Where would we be if companies only advertised their or our reality? Reality is depressing enough. The goal of advertising is to suggest a new reality, a more favorable world we all want to buy into.

Nike’s “Equality” campaign – reminding us equality is possible

Nike is another company that released a campaign in February that deals with issues at the forefront of political conversation today, especially in the U.S. where foreign visitors are being detained in airports, immigrants are being rounded up for deportation, and hate speech is on the rise.

Sports has always been a venue for peace and cooperation, in the Olympics and in competitions and leagues throughout the world. The playing field is a place where, as Michael B. Jordan narrates, “you’re defined by your actions, not your looks or beliefs.”

Of course, Nike is taking heat for their history of using “sweatshop” factories in countries around the world that abused their workers and paid them little. Critics call them hypocritical for good reason and share current examples of inequality for Nike workers in places like Vietnam.

Yes, there’s much more work to be done, but do we kill the message because the messenger is still flawed? No…or we’d never hear these messages!

I’m always leery of companies cashing in on these messages–like Nike selling $35 “Equality” t-shirts–but I still think corporations play an important role in a free and just society. At least Nike has made an effort to be more than an ad campaign, and if you go to the Nike Equality campaign page, you’ll see they offer and sponsor opportunities to mentor in your community and are partnering with PeacePlayers International, an organization who works every day to encourage peace in areas of armed conflict by bringing kids together through sports.

“Equality should have no boundaries. If we can be equals here, we can be equals everywhere.”

This message is true–inspirational and aspirational. I, for one, am behind any well-done campaign that talks about important societal issues in such a way, especially in times in which some leaders prefer we all be quiet. Now, if we could get more companies to speak up and do more to pressure legislators (in whatever country they’re in) to create policies that better the environment, equalize justice in courts and in social institutions, foster diverse communities and more, that would be progress. That would be being a good corporate citizen, and we need people with that kind of leverage to take action.

We’re in this together. The more we remember that and encourage it, the better.